As creators, our minds are eternally trying to replicate this experience for our audiences with every post we create, every podcast we record, and every episode we publish.
I know because the most frequent question I get asked about creating content is “where do you find new ideas for great content.”
For me, that answer is simple: I steal it. And you should too.
In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon lays out 10 ways to unlock your creativity. The book is a New York Times bestseller and has been featured in resources for creativity all over the world.
Tbh, I didn’t think it was all that great.
The first time I read it, the book felt like a bunch of obvious observations tied together by sketch art and catchy one-liners.
Then, I spent 5 years trying to create content.
Along the way, I had exhausted all of the low-hanging fruit I could talk about, answered every basic question in my niche, and was searching desperately for new ways to serve my audience before I lost their attention for good.
I picked up the book again.
Suddenly, it had meaning for me. The pages shouted at specific thoughts in my head. The advice I once thought was obvious felt novel and breakthrough to my specific problems.
There were 4 ideas drawn from his book that have changed how I look for ideas:
- Curate Your Content Diet
- Be a Copy Cat
- Build Your Family Tree
- Make What You Like, Not Just What You Know
Curate Your Content Diet
Wouldn’t it be so helpful if you had access to the thoughts, inboxes, and search history for your target audience?
Good news: you do.
Even if you yourself are not exactly the same as the audience you’re trying to target, the odds are that you have a lot more in common than you might imagine. At the most basic level, there is something (industry, socioeconomic status, region of the country, hobby, stage of life, values, etc.) that you share with your target.
Use those things. Evaluate your own tendencies and behaviors. Notice what you are drawn to consuming. Then, find ways to leverage what you consume.
I’ll give you an example.
Jeff Sheldon is the Founder of Ugmonk – a design studio that produces American-made clothing and accessories for your life and work.
Ugmonk has grown to become wildly popular as a lifestyle brand. Jeff-the-entrepreneur has built a loyal audience by creating beautiful products that last a lifetime. Along the way, Jeff-the-designer has developed a reputation for having a keen eye that can spot beauty in typically overlooked places.
Instead of keeping his interests to himself, Jeff uses them in content.
Each Friday, Jeff sends his “5 Things” email. The email features the five products, websites, stories, or brands that have caught his eye. He uses his own diet of interactions with other brands and content to provide a curation service to his audience.
In this way, he represents his audience. His content is derived from his diet. The curation works.
Be a Copycat
As you curate, you’ll undoubtedly come across truly great work that is worth copying word for word.
So, do it.
Copy work is the long-lost art for perfecting a craft.
You don’t make a kid write their own music to learn an instrument. Nobody is required to write a book the first time they learn how to read.
Yet, we’re scared to copy the work of those creators who have come before us. It makes no sense.
Whether you’re a writer, designer, artist, or entrepreneur – there is value in learning by copying. You might copy a business model from an entrepreneur you respect deeply. Or, you could write out the copy from an ad that resonated with you.
Doing copy work has changed how I think and write completely.
Earlier this year I took Sam Parr’s course, CopyThat. It’s a 14-day course that provides you with some of the best copywriting in history. Each day your assignment is to copy great writing word for word by hand.
By the end of the course, you will write differently. Not because you learned some new formula for better writing. Not even because you read great work. There is simply something in the action of practicing the craft long-hand that helps your brain make connections that weren’t there before.
Try it. The worst outcome is having great work to read and study as you continue to refine your craft in other ways.
Build Your Family Tree
As you experience the work of the greats, you’ll begin to notice small differences in style or format from one to the next. Some of these wrinkles will resonate with you, while you’ll want to leave others behind. That’s good.
You’re developing taste.
Piecing together what you like from the creators you look up to provides the foundation for your creator family tree.
Just like your real family tree, there are a myriad of influences that impact how you are raised. Your parents, their parents, the country of your origin vs. theirs, the time in history you were brought up in…on and on and on.
Identifying your influences will allow you to call on specific styles or tactics when needed.
On the flip side, as you create, you may see others borrowing tactics you’ve used. Encourage this. Use their imitation as an opportunity to influence and mutually promote each other’s work.
Using this strategy is what made Kobe Bryant such a successful basketball player. Bryant famously patterned much of his game after his idol Michael Jordan. From the way he spoke to how he played, and eventually celebrated championships – Kobe definitely borrowed from MJ’s creativity.
Still, the GOAT wasn’t the only player Kobe mimicked.
Toward the end of his playing career, Kobe began opening up as to where he learned certain aspects of his game:
…the passing of Magic…the footwork of Hakeem…the defensive intensity of Michael…etc.
We can do the same thing with content. Find the creators you look up to. Incorporate their “moves” and pass it on when you get the chance to help the next generation.
Make What You Like, Not Just What You Know
This is the simplest piece of advice, but probably the most difficult to follow.
For perfectionists like me (and probably you), it’s easier to make what we “know” rather than what we’re interested in.
Reason being, merely liking something doesn’t require being a professional in an area. If we’re not a pro in it, then why would we create content about it?
The answer: because it’s crazy not to.
We don’t hold any other group to that bar for action. Not every financial teacher has experienced an IPO or bankruptcy. Not every counselor has experienced abuse. Every coach hasn’t hit a game-winning shot, or sold a company, or whatever you may look to them for.
The fact is that interest is a much bigger advantage than merely experience. If you’re interested in a given area, you’re more likely to do the work necessary to understand that topic deeply. Teaching it will mutually benefit you as you codify your knowledge and your audience as they learn a new subject.
The most experienced person in the world can be a boring instructor if their heart isn’t in the subject they’re teaching.
Stealing is the most effective way to generate new ideas for your content. You steal from someone who stole from someone else.
Nothing is new.
Learn how to steal well. Cite your sources, and borrow from a diversity of voices to have a well-rounded point of view. As you do, Curate, Copy, MashUp, Make content you like. I guarantee your audience will too.
And who knows. Maybe some of them will even invite you on a weekend trip away. 🙂